The winning designs were selected after a nationwide competition open to both professional designers and design students. A specially assigned selection panel had the difficult task of whittling down more than 400 entries before settling on the ideas presented by Junichi Kawanishi, Director of the Japan Sign Design Association and the Osaka Design Society.
The intricate designs, which will adorn all 5,000 medals, reflect patterns of light in order to symbolise the energy of the athletes and those who support them. The designs also represent how athletes strive for victory on a daily basis, as well as the Olympic themes of diversity and friendship.
“It is a great honour that my design was selected for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic medal,” Kawanishi said. “I never dreamed that the design I submitted only as a memorial to this lifetime event would actually be selected. With their shining rings, I hope the medals will be seen as paying tribute to the athletes’ efforts, reflecting their glory, and symbolising friendship.”
Sports fans across Japan have a particularly close connection to the medals thanks to the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project, a landmark recycling initiative which ensured that each one has been moulded entirely from metal extracted from recycled consumer electronics over the past two years.
Under the theme “Be better, together – for the planet and the people”, TOCOG intends to make these the most environmentally friendly and sustainable Games so far. The project attracted donations and support from 1,300 educational institutions and 2,100 electronics retail stores across Japan.
Signature yellow donation boxes were placed in post offices and on street corners all over the country, and a TOCOG partner company enabled the public to donate their used phones at 2,400 stores nationwide.
With more than 90 per cent of Japan’s local authorities participating, a total of 78,985 tons of discarded devices were collected, a haul which included approximately 6.21 million used mobile phones, along with digital cameras, handheld games and laptops, all of which were then classified, dismantled and melted down by highly trained contractors.
This meant that the final goals of 30.3kg of gold, 4,100kg of silver and 2,700kg of bronze were reached by the time the collection cycle closed on 31 March 2019.
The concept of making the medals from recycled metal is not entirely unique to Tokyo 2020. It has already been trialled at previous Games, most recently at Rio 2016, where an estimated 30 per cent of the silver and bronze medals originated from recycled materials. But the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project has certainly been unique in its scale, marking the first time that a country’s citizens have been proactively involved in donating the electronic devices used to make the medals, in line with the Games’ Nationwide Participation Programmes.
As well as the medals themselves, the medal cases and ribbons were also unveiled on Wednesday, each paying tribute to the ancient traditions of Japanese craftsmanship and the Olympic values. Each case is manufactured from Japanese ash dyed the same colour as the Olympic emblem and, remarkably, every single one will have its own wood fibre pattern subtly infused into the design, representing each individual Olympian who steps onto the field of play.
The ribbons combine the traditional Japanese design motifs of ichimatsu moyo and kasane no irome in a modern presentation intended to reflect Japan itself, and its demonstration of unity in diversity.
“There is a beautiful balance between the design of the medals and their ribbons,” Ryohei Miyata, Chair of the Tokyo 2020 medal design selection panel, said. “It makes me want to strive for a medal myself.”
The sustainability initiative which has played such a big role in the creation of the medals is just one of many environmentally friendly programmes being implemented by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee. The uniforms for the upcoming Olympic Torch Relay will be produced in part using recycled plastic bottles. Even the victory ceremony podiums next summer will have been made from recycled household and marine plastic waste, with the Japanese public contributing around 45 tons of household plastic in order to create the 100 podiums for the Games.
The organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project are hoping that this drive for a sustainable society will not end with the Olympic medals themselves. They are now calling on business owners, local authorities and the Japanese public to continue donating used household appliances, to reuse the metal for community purposes, including the creation of medals for local sports events across Japan.